Zuni language classes help APS students connect to their culture

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – With students in Albuquerque Public Schools representing more than 121 Native American tribes and 100 different dialects, the district has started to teach native languages in the classroom. It’s a way to keep the languages alive, and it’s become wildly successful.

“We enjoy being together, we get to talk to each other and learn new things everyday,” said Araelia Haskie.

For the first time ever, students at Cibola High School are learning to speak the Zuni language. They learn everything from colors and directions, to describing the process of making a cup of tea.

“Language is our identity, language is who we are,” said Bernard Chimoni.

Chimoni is the only Zuni teacher for the whole district. He travels to several schools across Albuquerque to teach the language, including Del Norte High School and Governor Bent Elementary School, as well as the CEC.

“In our 19 New Mexico pueblos, our language is no longer being shifted, we’re almost at the point of language loss,” said Chimoni.

To boot, he said students continue to move away from their communities.

“I feel they begin to be disconnected, and we have to reconnect them,” he said.

Navajo has been taught in APS schools for years.  On Tuesday night, the school board approved an action to get more state funds to teach Navajo and Zuni in APS classrooms.

“I am just so glad and so grateful for the support that Albuquerque Public Schools has given our program,” said Daisy Thompson, the Director of Indian Education for APS.

She said many of the students are going back to their communities, speaking with the older generations, and taking part in traditional ceremonies.

“Taking this class really makes me [connect] with my, the Zuni people,” said Haskie.

Not only are the students learning the language, but also the culture.

“I call them the leaders of today, because if we don’t teach them now, when will they be taught?” said Chimoni.

The school district hopes it can bring other Native languages into the schools over time, and eventually teach Navajo and Zuni in all elementary schools.

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